What, fundamentally, is the difference between the decedent in the 1990’s who shredded all of his bank statements and personal letters prior to death, and the decedent today who fails to disclose his online banking and e-mail passwords? This is an answer for a later article, but for the time being we will delve into the emerging world of “digital estate planning.”
If you haven’t figured out by now, one of my biggest issues with estate planning is the incessant fear-mongering used to scare people into getting their estate planning done. As I have previously mentioned, fear is not a motivator for a large number of potential clients who lack an estate plan. Some people will not acknowledge the possibility of premature death, or the risk associated with a lack of planning, so there will never be a sense of urgency outside of experiencing a close loss. There are, however, some potential clients who are overly sensitive to fear and emotion, and either fail to act or over-react based on this fear. This sub-group of potential clients is most at risk for being ripped off.
There is no shortage of oversold estate planning strategies. One strategy I noted before is the over-emphasis of probate avoidance. Another popular estate planning buzz phrase deals with guardianship planning for parents of minor children. The benefit of these estate planning strategies is that they are at least pitched by attorneys, who have some level of training and knowledge in the estate planning sphere.
However, a spam e-mail I recently received from one of the CRM companies I mentioned in a previous blog post reminded me of the newest kid in town in the parlance of estate planning: DIGITAL ASSETS. I will not directly quote the e-mail so as to not identify the company in question, but its basic premise is that you are screwed if you fail to plan for digital assets. This upset me, as it is unnecessary fear-mongering.
As I started to dig, I noticed a disturbing trend. NON-ATTORNEYS HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO SIGNIFICANTLY PROFIT FROM DOCUMENT PREPARATION SERVICES. SO, NON-ATTORNEYS ARE BEGINNING TO USE DIGITAL ESTATE PLANNING AS A PROFIT-MAKING ALTERNATIVE TO DOCUMENT PREPARATION.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Digital estate planning is important. However, as noted in the CRM article, a common theme to digital estate planning services are that “all attorneys are bad, because in a few isolated cases clients have had extra difficulty by ignoring digital estate planning. Don’t trust your attorney.” By painting at the extremes, there is a concerted attempt to divert legal business to non-attorneys.
Now, some would say that this diversion of business can be a good thing. However, the customer who falls prey to this type of scheme is the customer driven by cost-savings and emotion, who is not well-trained in making educated decisions.
In a future article, I will examine digital assets in light of the pre-digital world. In other words, how were things handled prior to the digital age? As you will see, there is not much difference from today’s world. Things have just shifted from paper to an online record.